A social robot in a fur hat

In the European project IURO the Speech group take part in the development of a robot that interacts socially with humans. With the help of their robotic head Furhat the robot will be able to conduct a dialogue and understand route directions.

The goal of the European project Interactive Urban Robot (IURO) is to develop a socially interactive robot, i.e. a robot that can engage in information-gathering face-to-face interactions in multi-user settings. The Speech group from the Department of Speech, Music and Hearing (TMH), participate in the project along with research groups from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Poland.

“IURO is about building a hands-on demonstrator application, but the goal is also to go deeper into the research. In this case, we want to create a robot that can navigate in a city with the help of humans. It should not be guided by GPS or a map, but instead question their way, make contact with people and understand directions”, tells Associate Professor Jonas Beskow, who is one of the KTH researchers in the project.

The project, which started in early 2010, will run until 2013. At the Speech group three full-time researchers are working on the project. IURO follows a multi-disciplinary approach combining environment perception, communication, navigation, knowledge representation and assessment, and human factors studies as well as a novel robot platform for human-centred urban environments as a pre-industrial development.

One of the central challenges in IURO is that of interpreting the spoken route directions into a semantic formalism that is useful for the robot. The project is using a robot head for turn taking and attention signalling in multi-party dialogue. For this purpose the KTH group has developed the optical robotic head Furhat.

”We provide two main components of this multi-disciplinary project. One is the dialogue management and road description; the second is the actual robot face,” says Jonas Beskow.

The facial expression cues and gaze direction are important parts in the interaction, explains Jonas Beskow.
 

"In this project we build on our previous work on facial animation, a robot head that consists of a mask that animates a human head."

He notes that the challenge of the project is about the desire to better simulate humanlike communication:


"We don´t want to create a natural-looking human, but something that obviously is a robot or virtual character, but that has as much as possible of the ways of expressions of a human being. There are elements of basic research in this that has to do with human communication and turn taking. Much of our communication is not verbal but is about gestures and speech signals such as tone of voice,” says Jonas Beskow.

In December 2011, the Speech group showcased their robot head FurHat at RobotVille Festival (part of a pan-European Robot week) at the Science Museum in London, where the 7500 visitors of the 4-day exhibition were able to talk with Furhat in a three-part dialogue setting.

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